Easy and ready communication within the department is an important sign of department health. Are people comfortable coming to you for help with individual issues? Are people comfortable talking together about issues common to the department? Are you able to have disagreements but still come to an acceptable resolution on difficult issues? Yes answers are what we hope for, but they don't always come naturally. Do what you can to build a culture that encourages communication within the department.
The most common way for people in a department to talk together is in a department meeting, which is the focus of this section, but there are other ways as well. Some time can be saved by settling straightforward matters through e-mail. Conversely, discussing complex issues through email can waste time.
Even with much departmental business taken care of via e-mail and/or individual conversations, and even knowing how busy everyone is, it's good to meet occasionally as a department. It helps to keep everyone talking with each other, helps keep everyone on the same page in terms of issues in the department, and it can help everyone feel a part of the department.
It's difficult to predict what the issues may be that need collective discussion; it could be almost anything that is not susceptible to a quick yes or no answer. Here are some of the issues that tend to come up:
- curriculum: everything from individual plans for a new course to changes in major requirements. This is an important topic to bring up in the fall, in case you need to get started on proposals, which are due in October.
- delegation of departmental tasks: if you put these up on a board for all to see, it may be easier to divide up responsibilities equitably.
- events planning (for majors, speakers, information sessions, etc.).
- course scheduling for the next year: some aspects can be done by communication with individuals. Many chairs do an initial solicitation to individuals, asking what their preferences are for teaching in the coming two-year period. Then they make up a draft schedule, and have a department meeting so everyone can look it over together and work things out. If you're having trouble getting cooperation (e.g., no one volunteers to teach 1st or 9th block), bringing up the issue in the face-to-face setting of a department meeting may help. Such a meeting will also encourage the sense that these are the department's offerings, not just a collection of individual courses.
- enrollment: if you've got a problem with regard to over- or under-enrollments.
- budget: review of previous year's expenditures; discussion of any unusual expenditures expected/needed in the coming year or two.
- admission issues: You might invite counselors from the Admission Office to a meeting in order to talk with the department-to familiarize new people in Admission with the department, or all people in Admission with new faculty and/or new curricular developments in the department.
- assessment: You might invite the Director of Institutional Research to discuss your department's assessment plan in the context of college-wide assessment.
- program enhancement: Department members may have good ideas about how the department can take advantage of competitive resources (e.g., planning grants, the Beta Omicron Distinguished Alumni Visitors program, Dimensions funding, Berry Center funding) to enhance the departmental goals.
And of course there are some things that definitely require a meeting:
- searches (drafting the job description, discussing candidates, etc.)
- contract/tenure review (tenure-track and tenured members of the department meet to discuss the record of the person up for review)
Most departments meet once a block or so, or at least twice a semester. It's convenient to ask people to keep a certain slot open every two weeks (refigured at the beginning of each year), with you letting people know at least a week or more in advance whether or not you'll be meeting.
If your department has a large number of events-not just department meetings, but sponsorship of various colloquia, speakers, etc.-you might you might consider setting up an online calendar for the department on which everyone can post department events of various sorts. This might also be helpful for the heavy scheduling that comes during a search.
- When you call a meeting, let people know the major items on the agenda and ask if they have anything else to add. Send out the final agenda at least a day before the meeting. Include not only the time the meeting will begin, but the time it will end.
- If you haven't met for a while, send around a note asking people if they have any agenda items (even if you don't).
- During the meeting, be sure everyone is included in the discussion. If someone hasn't said anything on a subject where it would really help to know what everyone thinks, ask each person for their thoughts. The point here is to help people feel included, not to put them on the spot, so take care how you ask.
- Follow the agenda for the meeting, being open to new issues, but being sure to get to any items that need a timely decision.